Born a Crime Questions and Answers
by Trevor Noah

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What is the historical context of Born a Crime?

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Steph Müller eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The historical context to Trevor Noah's Born a Crime is the draconian laws of apartheid South Africa. It is thanks to these laws that his birth to interracial parents was considered to be a crime.

Two of the laws which segregated white and non-white people under apartheid are relevant here: the Immorality Act, which banned sexual relationships between members of different race groups, and the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, which forbade white people from entering into marriages with people of color.

The stories in this book are anecdotes of Trevor's from growing up and living under the restrictive laws of apartheid. These laws dictated that he needed to stay as hidden as possible in order to conceal knowledge of his existence from the apartheid authorities.

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wednes | Student

Trevor Noah was born in South Africa under Apartheid. This was a time of government-mandated racial segregation. As Trevor was a black woman who had a child with a while man, Trevor was literally "born a crime." He spent several years of his childhood living under Apartheid rule, as he was born in 1984. Apartheid ended in the early '90s.

This book is a series of stories revealing the struggles his mother and grandmother faced while raising him. It also details how many women defied their government by having mixed-race children--and how this impacted his childhood.

One especially interesting segment demonstrates how the name "Hitler" lacked the instant, extremely negative connotation it carries in America and Europe. This is not due to an acceptance of Hitler's deeds. Rather, it's because Africans have experienced more harsh rule at the hands of other despots.

kalynxmccall | Student

Trevor Noah's Born a Crime takes place within the historical context of "apartheid," meaning "apartness" in Afrikaans. Apartheid governed social relations between South Africa's white minority (European) and non-white majority (African, Indian, etc.) from the early twentieth century until 1990s. Though rooted in histories, legacies, and laws of British and Dutch (Afrikaan) colonialism, apartheid was formally introduced in 1948 through the ideology of the National Party. Apartheid became law in 1953, when the majority white legislature passed the Reservation of National Amenities Act, which legally segregated public spaces. Furthermore, throughout the 1960s, more laws and acts were passed to implement racial segregation and classification, economic and political discrimination, and, in many cases, removal from tribal lands. Included in these laws were bans, similar to ones in the US, making interracial communication and marriages illegal. Trevor, being born of multiracial parents, was thus born a crime.

Some notable laws passed during apartheid included the following:

  • The Race Classification Act: a law instituting that every citizen suspected or believed not to be of European descent was classified according to race
  • The Group Areas Act: a law removing certain groups from their homes and forcing certain races to live segregated in certain areas
  • The Mixed Marriages Act: a law prohibiting interracial marriage
  • The Immorality Act: a law prohibiting interracial sexual relations

Part of the segregation of apartheid was enforced by judging and sorting people based on their skin tones and judging people by their tribes. Darker skinned Africans (like Trevor's mother) could be classified as black, while lighter skinned people (like Trevor) could be classified as colored. Each classification came with certain restraints and privileges. Furthermore, Africans in South Africa as well as throughout the continent descend from different tribes, such as Bantu, Zulu and Twsana. As Trevor notes in the book:

“Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. A shared language says "We're the same." A language barrier says "We're different." The architects of apartheid understood this. Part of the effort to divide black people was to make sure we were separated not just physically but by language as well. In the Bantu schools, children were only taught their home language. Zulu kids learned in Zulu. Tswana kids learned in Tswana. Because of this, we'd fall into the trap the government had set for us and fight among ourselves, believing that we were different.”

Born in 1984, six years before the official end of apartheid, Trevor Noah was literally born a crime as the son of a European father and an African mother under a system designed to keep them apart. Trevor summarizes the historical context of apartheid best when saying,

“The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate, is what is was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.”